[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Can an Iranian Nuclear Force Be Reliably Deterred to Prevent Aggression and Stepped-up Jihadi Terrorism? 2nd in a Series of Articles

"Iran will resume uranium enrichment if the European Union does not recognize its right to do so, two Iranian nuclear negotiators said in an interview published Thursday"

This is the 2nd buggy article in a new series on Iran and nuclear weapons, and more specifically, on whether a nuclear-armed terror state like Iran --- headed by a fist-shaking, apocalyptic spouting president, who publicly boasts that he expects the Shiite messianic Mahdi to reappear imminently in a warlike Judgment Day-scenario for infidels and apostate Muslims --- can be reliably deterred the way, say, the Soviet Union was in the cold war by powerful democratic states and their allies.

The Truth? On This and Related Matters, Speculation Is Inescapable

As the 1st article in the new series showed, it's not easy to be certain in this and related matters --- just the opposite, and for an overwhelming reason: any analysis of Iran's future behavior at home and abroad in a nuclear era encounters some massive information-gaps about the way in which power is currently distributed at the top in the clerical-fascist totalitarian system and whether Ahmadinejad's manic, wildly loony Islamic beliefs and holocaust bombast are shared by the other power-holders in contemporary Iran. The same information-Black Holes hamper any and all predictions as to whether Iran's leaders at the head of a nuclear-armed terror-state, whether in the next few years or decades into the future, could be expected to behave rationally as all deterrence theory postulates . . . something clarified in the previous buggy article.

What follows? Tersely put, all discussion of these matters is bound to be speculative, pure-and-simple; and you need to be wary of what you see published in the print- media or what you hear on TV or the radio.

Note Quickly Though

To say that speculation is inescapable, what with the information gaps we all face about Iran's political leadership these days and into the future, isn't to say all the speculative stuff is equally worthless.

There are, as it happens, possibly a dozen or so specialists world-wide who know a great deal about 1) Iranian life and 2) nuclear deterrence and military matters as well as 3) social science methods of obtaining and handling evidence. Most of them are either in American or Israel intelligence agencies or were formerly associated with them and are now in universities or at research institutes. No matter. Even the active intelligence agents are forced to speculate largely in a vacuum, seeing as how there are few, if any, reliable agents or enticed double-agents in well-placed posts in Iran --- or so it seems.

For them and the rest of us, the chief reason for the big information-gaps about Iran is easy to set out. Not only does Iran remain very much a clerical-fascist totalitarian regime dominated by the Secret Police, Religious Police, and millions of religious zealots eager to spy on their fellow citizens, but --- worse yet --- Iran has lately witnessed a big assault on the little freedom the media and other critics managed to preserve, fitfully and with constant threats of retaliation, since the failed reform movement of the late 1990s was brought to an abrupt halt by the hard-line mullahs. Since then, the few moderate clerics and intellectuals in the country have also been jailed or intimidated into silence. So have the various grass-roots movements to improve civil liberties that were part of the nascent reform movement in the last decade, and intellectual, cultural, and religious life is more rigidly controlled than at any time since the end of the Ayatollah Khomeini era of the 1980s.

In particular, with the election last summer (2005) of President Mahamoud Ahmadinejad --- whose apocalyptic religious fervor knows no bounds --- the Secret Police, the Religious Police, and the volunteer zealot-informers have reinforced the repressive pressures of rigid Islamic law on women, sexual matters, young people, TV and film entertainment, and --- where it can (with only some success) --- the content of the internet available to Iranians.

Remember, finally --- as the previous buggy article noted --- prof bug is decidedly not one of these bakers' dozen specialists; very much the contrary.


Four of them loom as particularly critical, only the 2nd of which is the subject of today's analysis . . . taken up and dealt with at length in Part Two. Meanwhile, try to recall the other two that will be treated here briefly in a fast, top-skimming manner; nothing else until the next articles in the buggy series.

1. What Do We Really Know
about Iran's Progress in Nuclear Weaponry?

How far advanced Iranian R&D is to deploying nuclear weapons and missile-delivery systems remains a mystery, regarding which there is little or no reliable information. We're also in the dark about any plans to produce crude radioactive suitcase bombs, which could be planted by its terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and then denied strenuously by Tehran that its agents had any role here. All of these matters are speculative. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring the alleged peaceful use of nuclear energy --- acquired by Iran after its government had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty --- has been totally surprised by the discoveries of the last year on enrichment and centrifuge R&D. Is its surprise really surprising for us? Wasn't the IAEA also monitoring the "peaceful" R&D of North Korea's nuclear development from the early 1990s on until recently . . . with no more success than it has had so far with Iran in detecting the weapons programs?

Then there's the question of negotiations with Iran's leaders on its nuclear weapons programs, coupled with some mix of promised rewards for stopping and threatened economic sanctions for not. Despite what you read in some quarters, why would a country --- which finds India and Pakistan (friendly to the US) armed with nuclear weapons, an unreliable friend like nuclear armed Russia near its borders, and US allies on its western borders (Turkey and Iraq) --- bring to a halt the regime's campaign, backed by billions of dollars worth of expenditure (in a country where nearly half the population lives in poverty), to develop a nuclear force? Especially since its leaders clearly believe it will give them great prestige and influence in Muslim circles world-wide, except for the Sunni leaders in the Gulf States that also either border or are near to Iran? And the topper itself here is that the nuclear program is the hallmark of the loud jingoist drumbeat, full of truculent defiance of outsiders, that the regime has been banging for a year now . . . much to the jubiliant applause of the Iranian masses.

But this is only speculation on prof bug's part. So it is for anyone else.

2. Who Holds Power?

What's the actual balance of power in Iran's political institutions, now that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- who seems to represent a resurgent populist and jingoist nationalism and fanatical Shiite death-loving ideology --- is riding high in public display, not just in Iran, but world-wide?

Before his election last year (2005), there was no doubt whatever that the electoral side of the political system --- highly rigged by the all-powerful mullahs and Supreme Ayatollah who control the political-theocratic institutions like the Guardian Council and Expediency Council, not to mention the legal system, the security systems, and the secret police --- was fully subordinate in all decision-making on public and private matters to the die-hard mullah theocrats. So is Ahmadinejad one more sock-puppet in their hands, or is he able, as a self-revealing zealot who not only talks about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi-Savior who will also bring Armageddon and Doomsday to all infidels and apostate Muslims, to force the pace of policy-making in his own direction? The fact is, nobody knows except a few high-place mullahs and other policymakers in Iran.

Trying to make sense of the answers to this two-sided question, speculative as they are bound to be, is what --- remember --- Part Two will deal with today. Keep in mind though: aside from Ahmadinejad and a few of the higher big-shot mullahs holding power for two decades or more now, nobody really knows, and all the claims you might read that the system is riddled with factions, many of them favorable to reining in the hotheaded ideologue and his associates --- all in an effort to reach global agreements with the US and others on Iran's nuclear force and role in the Middle East and Persian Gulf area --- has no sure foothold on hard evidence whatsoever. Period.

3. Deterrence vs. Raw Theocratic Mumbo-Jumbo Ideology

The logic of deterrence, as the previous buggy article showed, postulates that the would-be aggressive leaders of the state being targeted by deterrence threats will behave rationally . . . this, irrespective of any fanatical ideology, whether secular or theocratic. Faced with a credible threat of retaliation for aggression, nuclear or non-nuclear --- but especially the former ---even the most fervent true-believing ideologues will behave like political leaders anywhere else: they will know how to how to weigh the costs and benefits of aggressive action, including the probability of winning the resulting war if they ignore the threat and do what the deterring state is seeking to prevent . . . or so the theory lays down, with no exceptions.

Reality vs. Theory

All this is strictly theoretical. The behavior of states isn't fully encouraging here --- just the contrary. There's a long literature on deterrence breakdowns in the cold war period when a variety of US adversaries in the Third World --- usually aligned with the Soviet Union or China (or China itself) --- ignored American threats, believed they could control the resulting escalation of any crisis, and were willing, if need be, to risk or endure war with American forces if that resulted.
Note, in this connection, that Ahmadinejad's spooky, extravagantly superstitious religious abracadabra and reiterated menaces will be dealt with at length in the next buggy article. Still, without running too far ahead of today's argument and analysis, a few comments about them seem in order here if only because you need to grasp the overall substance of his hyped-up beliefs and convictions to follow the argument, later on, of how political power is likely to be distributed between him and the entrenched mullahs and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Some Comments To Try Remembering, Which Will Be Fleshed Out in the Next Buggy Article

(i.) One thing's pretty certain for starters: Ahmadinejad's preposterous mumbo-jumbo certitudes aren't bluff or so much window-dressing for self-centered, power-laden motives of a standard Middle East or Islamic tin-pot dictator's sort.

Consider the evidence. It's overwhelming.

He has resorted, to begin with --- repeatedly and lavishly --- to theocratic, death-embracing rhetoric with a sort of obsessive monomania . . . which includes raving threats to Israel and Jews world-wide (Islam's evil enemies no less the way they were than for Hitler and the Nazis) as well as to the infidels and infidel-countries that support them. He believes fervently, with iterated emphasis, in the imminent return of the Hidden Imam or Mahdi, a messianic Judgment Day figure in both Shiite and Sunni versions of Islam ---with some differences over whether the Mahdi did appear before 1000 C.E. or not. In an apocalyptic Showdown-Battle between good and evil, the Islamic Messiah --- so this religious claptrap goes --- will slay the perverse infidels and oblige the others to submit to Islam, while, simultaneously, just like that, he will punish apostate Muslims, lead sinful Muslims back to true-believing zeal and righteous behavior, and --- the topper --- banish all misery and suffering here on earth for the faithful until, at death, they are sky-hooted one-by-one on the wings of angels up to Paradise itself.

This extravagant hocus-pocus bombast isn't, observe swiftly, for just the benefit of Iranians or Muslims. When Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2005, he beseeched the Hidden Clerical-Specter to show himself as soon as it's convenient, the better to work his messianic wonders and save the world for purified Islam. After his harangue there, to compound the lunatic stuff, he insisted that a mighty Allah-sent light infused and surrounded him, to the point that all the pop-eyed delegates in attendance were held immobilized and couldn't even blink. Most people speaking at the UN --- or anywhere else --- understand what a limelight can do. Not the personal vassal of the Messianic Mahdi himself. It's more magic for him, generated by unseen Ready-Kilowatt angels on high.

It gets nuttier too. To facilitate the just-over-the-horizon homecoming of the Mahdi, Ahmadinejad --- who sees himself as the Islamic Messiah's personal servant and a pivotal instrument in hastening the peek-a-boo holy spook's return --- has held several telepathic tête-à-têtes, it's reported, with the Hidden Imam in the inner recesses of his presidential palace and at the Mahdi's alleged hide-out at the bottom of a murky well near the holy city of Qum . . . the poor ghostly guy stashed out there for at least 900 years now or, if you're a Sunni, ever since Mohammed's revelations 500 years earlier. Well, give credit where it's due. In civilized countries, a leader who claims to have hallucinatory talkfests with imaginary companions is considered psychotic and ends up in psycho-ward treatment for the mentally deranged.

Not so in Iran . . . or elsewhere in Islam --- just the opposite. The more he vents his batty obsessive balderdash, the more jubiliantly the hot-air babble is greeted world-wide in most Muslim circles . . . and no doubt not just in developing countries, the condition of all Muslim-ruled ones, but among the poorly educated, alienated Muslims in West Europe.

(ii.) You say it's preposterous, all this theological poppycock? Well wait, it get's even more whacko. Ahmadinejad, you see, has backed up his wild ala-kazam fantasies with concrete actions.

Among other things, as the former mayor of Tehran, he developed elaborate, detailed plans for improving Tehran's roads and boulevards . . . the better, you see --- when the Mahdi geysers up out of his watery abode and triggers Allah's Judgment-Day slaughter-of-the-infidels and wonder-work on behalf of Muslims --- for the ecstatic swarms of his true, non-wavering devotees to mob the Savior and manifest their elated gratitude for what purified Showdown-Islam will do for Islam and the world . . . and especially to Islam's devilish enemies. And that's not all. With his hand on public funds, Ahmadinejad diverted hefty sums to improve the road from nearby Qum to the Mahdi's murky water-well retreat on its outskirts . . . though whether to make it easier for the Miracle-Worker Specter-Incarnate to hotfoot it to Tehran itself, or to have the purified, now ecstatically saved Muslims world-wide to travel to the Messianic Spook's Water-Hideaway itself and marvel over its wonders, isn't something that cagy Ahmadinejad ever let on.

All these opulent expenditures, mind you, in a country of 70 million people, about half of whom live in poverty despite the country's oil riches.


(iii.) Seems ever more nutty, no? . . . something, say, out of a bad science-fiction movie-script rejected by Hollywood moguls as a sure box-office flop? Too unbelievable, babe; sorry! Or possibly one of Philip Dick's lunatic drug-induced stories that, when he sobered up for a moment or two, the talented crazy --- after reading it --- tore up and flushed down the toilet as junk-stuff . . . only for the sewage to somehow wash up 12,000 miles away in the water-supply that Ahmadinejad has been drinking for the last two decades?

Maybe so, but think again.

However lunatic the rabid bombast and flipped-out actions might seem, not only is it clear that Ahmadinejad believes with the fervor of a little child in this kinky religious mumbo-jumbo with its weirdo eschatology --- which includes every detail regarding the imminent Judgment Day Showdown for the world when the Mahdi surges up out of his dank, wet abode and defeats the infidels, Muslim sin, human misery, and the failure of Iran's soccer team to make it past the 1st round of the World Cup --- but, surprise! surprise! . . . this hocus-pocus occultism is part and parcel of the general, widely idolized teachings and messianic hopes of the semi-secretive Hojatieh sect of Shiite Islam, in which, from an early age on, Ahmadinejad learned all these deranged necromantic bewitchments. There are hundreds of thousands of Iranians who, to one degree or another, follow those teachings and embrace those blissful, Kingdom-come hopes.


(iv.) Most Shiites, it's true --- yes, even radical jihadi fundamentalists --- don't adhere to the Hojatieh sect. The majority of Iranian clerics regard many of its theocratic credos and certitudes as heretical. As it happened, they even proved too much for the Ayatollah Khomeini . . . the firebrand revolutionary and vicious jihadi-warrior and terrorist-enthusiast who master-minded the overthrow of the Shah's regime in 1979 and instituted the clerical-fascist totalitarianism and its reign of terror that dominated Iranian life until his death a decade later.

In 1983, he even banned the sect from publicly espousing its dogmas . . . an act that sent its members into clandestine study and propagation.


(v.) Something to ponder here: what vexed Khomeini about the Hojatieh devotees wasn't their eschatological, end-of-misery-and-suffering except for infidels theological credo about the Messianic Mahdi's eventual reappearance. All Shiites believe this. That's what makes them Shiites and not Sunnis.

Rather, Khomeini's attacks on the sect apparently had other motives. As the most important cleric in the last 1000 years of Shiite Islam, he doubted that the elusive, hide-and-seek Mahdi was about to return. The Hard-to-See-or-Find Savior-of-Islam, you see, couldn't surge up out of the well any time soon because, according to Khomeini --- a typical totalitarian megalomaniac, only with religious bughouse convictions instead of secular ones --- before the Hidden Imam burst into flesh-and-blood incarnation once more and saved the world for true Islam, there was still much preparatory spadework to be done. Specifically, Allah's chief servant on earth after 1979 had to muster the Muslim world to do more by means of jihadi terror and warfare to kill the infidels or force them to submit to Islam, so that Islam could re-emerge as the global super-power again, all united under some Caliphate that caused awe in everyone's eyes. All this busy work and slaughter, according to Khomeini, had to be accomplished in order for Mohammed's prophetic role was fulfilled, after which the Mahdi's magical skyhootings would then materialize.

Khomeini, mind you, wasn't reticent about the need for a collective Holocaust-like beheading of non-Muslims world-wide, as part of Islam's Allah-ordained destiny for Islam to conquer the world:

Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of other countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world.. .. But those who study Islamic Holy \War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless.

"Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]?

"Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight.

"Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."


(vi.) Query: guess who was supposed to be the instrument of Mohammed himself in ensuring that the busy work was to be accomplished in his lifetime or at least of his immediate successors?

You're right! . . . the Ayatollah Khomeini himself, 2nd only to Mohammed himself --- or maybe 3rd, depending on when the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't Hidden Imam stopped being coy and showed up for his Showdown Miracles --- to prepare the world for the Mahdi-Savior's Judgment Day wonders. Not that this theological claptrap was the only difference that separated Khomeini from the Hojatieh sect. Unbridled power-lust also no doubt crackled in his mind. It always does for the last century's mass-murdering, terror-inducing totalitarian dictators --- whether Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and North Korea's vertically challenged fiend, not to forget their tin-pot imitators around the developing world. One and all, they've proved to be rabid megalomaniacs to the core and raving monstrous sociopaths with millions of death on their hands.

Most likely, then, a fanatical religious totalitarian like Khomeini was no more willing to have his power and authority challenged than Stalin had been to let Trotsky or the "right-wing" deviants in the Russian Communist Party to challenge his pronouncements and policy dogmas in the late 1920s and 1930s.


(vii.) Needless to add, the Hojatieh sect didn't disappear in its underground status during the rest of Khomeini's era, and it returned into the open soon after his death in 1989 . . . more influential than ever, what with Ahmadinejad's election last year as Iran's president. He has been rumored to oblige each and every member of his cabinet to swear fealty to the Hidden Imam before they could assume their governmental posts.

Our Analytical Problems That Follow

Given all this, a pivotal information-gap and the speculative uncertainties that follow --- which will be dealt with, remember, in the next buggy article in this series --- rear up here.

Above all, if Ahmadinejad reflects a particularly loony, frenzied Islamic ideology --- theocratic, death-dealing, and full of conviction that an Apocalyptic Showdown is just over the horizon for Islam's infidel enemies and sinful members --- what might this mean for the US, its Arab and European allies, or Israel once Iran achieves a fairly large deployment of nuclear weapons . . . and especially if, as some evidence indicates, his election and huge populist following have allowed him to carve out a fair degree of independent power-holding and policy-making that the top-dog mullahs can't offset? Alternatively, as other evidence indicates, can we really assume that there is very much of a gulf in outlook between Ahmadinejad and the key 20 or so highly entrenched mullahs and the Supreme Ayatollah when it comes to these weird, menacing theocratic dogmas? Either way, who can be sure, then, that a nuclear-armed Iran --- one of the two largest terror-supporting states in the world --- will conform to the logic of deterrence that postulates a far different kind of state leadership.

To put it differently, is Ahmadinejad --- and possibly many of the Big Cheese mullahs in power for two or more decades --- likely to behave more like a Hitler or a Stalin with nuclear weapons at his disposal?

A brief clarification:

Both Hitlerian Germany and Stalinist Russia were led by fiendish totalitarian mass-murderers . . . moral monsters through and through. But Hitler was a reckless high-risk gambler in foreign and military policies, who ignored or overrode his more cautious generals' warnings and advice --- convinced as he was in the infallibility of his intuitive grasp of warfare and Nazi Germany's destiny. Stalin was different. For all his jagged, hyped-up paranoia and rippling power-urges, he turned out to be much more cautious in foreign policy and had the luck or foresight to appoint brilliant generals like Marshall Zhukov as the war with Nazi Germany progressed.

The same was even more true of Stalin's successors after his death in 1953 --- those Communist Party heads who showed an increasing ideological moderation in domestic and foreign policy (if not necessarily in a linear, uninterrupted manner), until Gorbachev's belated efforts at reforming a bankrupt quasi-totalitarian system in the mid- and late 1980s went astray, backfired, and unleashed polarizing tendencies that favored radical reformers in the CP and, more important still, nationalist desires for self-rule among the non-Russian half of the Soviet population. Those who say the current Iranian leadership is like, say, Brezhnev's 20-year rule in the USSR --- you need to note carefully --- really have no clear evidence of this at all.

Which of these two totalitarian monsters, Stalin or Hitler, will Ahmadinejad and the powerful clique of hitherto dominant mullahs prove to be like if a terror state like Iran acquires nuclear warheads, long-range missiles, and --- the worst prospect of all ---lots of crude radioactive suitcase bombs to be delivered by suicidal terrorists?


4. The Last Black Hole: Forget Our Deterring Only Overt Military Aggression. How Would Nuclear Weapons Influence Iran's Foreign Policy Behavior?

Once more, needless to add, speculation and little else envelopes this critical issue. Remember, first off, that Iran is one of the two biggest supporters and allies of Islamic jihadi terrorism world-wide ---Saudi Arabia the other, with Syria a 3rd-place has-been terrorist enthusiast --- and it has done what it can to impede an American-mediated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its current leadership, certainly Ahmadinejad if not all the powerful mullahs themselves, also see themselves at war with all of the infidel world and with Sunni Muslim rivals. Given all this, the problem of deterring a nuclear-armed Iran in the future doesn't just boil down to a question of just preventing Iranian leaders from launching a classical nuclear strike against American bases, allies, or Israel in the Middle East.

Other Menaces

A greater danger is from arming terrorist surrogates like Hezbollah and Hamas (yes, a Sunni terrorist group with full Iranian support) with crude suitcase-size radioactive bombs to be used against Islam's enemies --- whether Shiite or Sunni. Another danger is deterring Iran from aggressive diplomacy and blackmail of cowed Persian Gulf States as well as supporting proto-Islamic states like the one now emerging in Somalia or the well-established genocidal Sudan government or the mass-murdering Islamic groups terrorizing parts of the Sudan and now of Chad. Or for intensifying the competition with Wahhabi oil-crats in Saudi Arabia to encourage radical Islamic mosques, cultural centers, Middle-East studies centers, and even terrorism in Europe, the New World, and elsewhere.

If, as may be the case, Ahmadinejad has an unusual power-base among the Iranian masses and certain elites --- the half of Iran that is poor and impoverished, as well as in parts of the Republican Guard military, the huge nation-wide Basai-militia, down-and-out mullahs and Islamic publicists who resent the richer, far more successfully corrupt and powerful mullahs and ayatollahs at the head of the trough --- we can't be even be sure, as we'll see, what that really entails for the wider decision-making at the top on the crucial issues just mentioned.



Introductory Comments

Since the Shiite revolution of 1979, we can identify three different stages in Iran's political evolution. The first two are fairly easy to analyze and document . . . at any rate, as far as the distribution of power in Iranian life went.

Enter All the Doubts and Uncertainty

It's in the third era --- which had been emerging in the shadows since the late 1990s, but only burst into the limelight with Ahmadinejad's election in July 2005 --- when our understanding of how power is now distributed and wielded in Iran stumbles around in the dark.

We simply don't know whether his brand of cocky nationalist jingoism, kinetically charged populism, and manic, cocksure religious fervor has the full endorsement of the ruling mullahs and their top-dog chief, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or reflects, instead, a surging breakthrough from the grass-roots of Shi-ite zeal and the impoverished masses that the powerful mullahs couldn't beat back and can't fully control. And, if the latter is the case, we don't how much room of maneuver Ahmadinejad actually has as a jingoist and zealous theocratic president, given his mass populist base among the disenfranchised and the poor and impoverished in Iran.

Again, There Are Two Possibilities Here.

The first possibility is that the chief cock-of-the-walk mullahs worry about these powerfully uncoiled populist trends and the wild-eyed, lunatic theocratic certitudes --- crammed with apocalyptic overtones and messianic end-of-the-infidel-world dithyrambs --- that Ahmadinejad caters to with relish . . . in which case the mullahs have to reckon with a new powerful political force in Iranian life, an independent source of power and influence in all decision-making at home and toward the outside world. Alternatively, the mullahs and Supreme Leader may simply see Ahmadinejad as a useful tool who can be co-opted into their tightly run inner circle of power-wielding and massive corruption and serve as a symbolic figure-head, nothing more, for the masses' hopes and dreams. Which of these two possibilities is the likelier?

The fact is, nobody really knows.

All political analysis that speculates here is precisely that: speculation, and only that . . . which doesn't mean that all the speculative stuff is equally worthless.

As it happens, there are possibly a dozen or so specialists --- world-wide and mainly in the US and Israel ---, who don't know a great deal about Iranian life and nuclear deterrence and military matters as well as social science methods of obtaining and handling evidence. The chief reason for the big information-gaps is easy to set out. Even more than in the late 1990s, Iran has lately witnessed a big assault on the little freedom the media and critics had in those days to throw more light on the machinations, intrigues, and power-jockeying amid an orgy of corruption at the top.

Later on, in Part Two, by way of illustration, we'll refer to a couple of articles by outsider specialists that claim to be savvy here, and we'll also see how little confidence you can have in their judgments.


(i.) The Era of Ayatollah Khomeini 1979-1989

A System Like Hitler's and Stalin's

The formal institutional order in Iran after its revolution was and still is easy to set out, particularly when it comes to inferring where dominant power-wielders are located. A good schema of it is set out at the BBC web-site, and it's interactive; you can click on the various institutional links to find a brief clarification, very rough in accuracy, of their constitutional roles and power in the wider Iranian system. But all this is formal camouflage. What remains uncertain is how these institutional roles and the distribution of power have evolved the last few years.

In the era of the Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Sayed Imam Khomeini Al-Mosawi --- which lasted a decade --- there wasn't any doubt whatsoever where major power was located and how it was executed.

All power lay on the right side of the BBC's institutional diagram, where the unelected and key religious-legal-and-security roles and personnel were located; and, more important, all of the power on in the Iraqi system culminated in Khomeini's unchallenged role as the dictator-supreme . . . the man who, like Hitler and Stalin, had the final, automatically followed word on any subject or topic whatever, or else! The electoral institutions were all window-display stuff, nothing else. As for the power-wielding institutions, they were all run, exactly like those in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, by the Supreme Leader's trusted henchmen; those who disagreed even slightly with his rigid policies at home and abroad were purged, tortured, killed, or --- if lucky --- escaped abroad. Note how the influential Expediency and Guardian Councils dominate the elected institutions, and still do provided Ahmadinejad is essentially a sock-puppet of the current Supreme Leader and the 20 or so other key mullahs in the country.

Otherwise, we have to infer that . . . well, to say anything now is to run ahead of the argument. Note, though, that military ---the Iranian Republican Guard and the nation-wide Basai or militia --- and the secret police, the legal system, the religious police, are the ultimate instruments of coercion, intimidation, and terror. In the Khomeini era, they clearly were under his thumb (whether that's true today is another matter as we'll see momentarily).

What Were the Sources of Khomeini's Unchallenged Power

Several stood out until his death in 1979.

He was the architect of the Iranian revolution of 1979; he and his immediate subordinates set up on their own the new Iranian Republic's constitutional order; and he was and remains the most influential cleric in Shi-ite Islam for over a millennium. The use of ruthless state terror, enforced by the Secret Police, the Religious Police, and the courts, eliminated the most intransigent groups opposed to the Khomeini-dominated clerical-fascist regime and cowed all others into submission. To this list, come to think of it, we should add the unrelieved sense of emergency caused by a decade-long Holy War with Saddam's totalitarian Iraq . . . another fascist regime, equally ruthless with its domestic opponents, only secular in thrust.

In short, between 1979 and 1989, there wasn't the slightest doubt Khomeini's power in Iran paralleled that of Hitler in Nazi Germany or Stalin in the Soviet Union.

The Pre-Dominant Trends in Iranian Politics and Foreign Policy Set into Motion

It was under Khomeini's paramount whip-hand that the hard-line nature of both Iran's domestic and foreign policies were set in place.

At home, a clerical-fascist form of Shi-ite rule that Islamized all public and private life quickly emerged, overseen by both the secret police and a morality religious police (the Khomite), along with the help of local clerics, paid informants, volunteer informants, the religious and "secular" courts, and the entire state bureaucracy. In this initial period, the drastic changes in Iranian life coincided with a reign of arbitrary and fanatical terror that you find in all totalitarian systems. All westernized influences were wiped out; the suppression of political and civil rights --- largely maintained by the Shah's rule before the religious-inspired revolution of 1979 --- was now intensified, along with a total submission of all cultural, intellectual, and private life to the Sharia, Islamic law . . . at any rate, to the extent that it was humanly possible.

What about the large number of Shiite clerics who had supported the Shah's long reign? Simply said, they were either purged, jailed, killed-off, or coaxed by threats into toeing the new hardboiled religious policies. The same was true of all but a few of the top Secret Police agents under the Shah.

Observe how clerical-fascist Iran, like all totalitarian states --- whether Communist, Fascist, Nazi, or Islamo-Fascist --- sought first and foremost to destroy all remnants of civil society that stand between the state and its secret police on one side and the individual and his or her family on the other.

And it isn't simply the destruction of all civil and political rights that totalitarian states immediately crush; it's also the strenuous campaign to control all private life --- cultural, intellectual, sexual, educational, and religious . . . all in the name of some utopian fantasy that justifies, if need be, slaughtering a large portion of the population. Then, too, the terror in Iran was rationalized as not only building the new utopia --- no, not the new Aryan-race, nor the Communist New Man and Socialism, rather under Khomeini's rule the one and true Islam and its God-sanctioned sway over human sin and frailty --- but also to defeat the swarms of enemies at home and abroad who were conspiring, it was repeatedly propagandized, to return Iranians to western dominance and impure infidel forms of life that threatened their souls.

Did Iran's clerical-fascist system ever reach the full-fledged totalitarian status of the Soviet Union under Stalin or China under Mao?

No --- but then, for all its horrors and genocidal thrust, neither did Nazi Germany. Probably the most accurate comparison with interwar Europe would be Iran's resemblance to a mix of Italian Fascism under Mussolini and the more ruthless, death-dealing Nazi system of Germany under Hitler. In the Middle East, probably only Saddam's more secular fascist regime went further toward the Hitlerian pole itself.

Whether Khomeini had lived one more decade or two is another matter. Especially if Iran had won the bloody, drawn-out war with Iraq, it's likely that Iran itself under a longer-living Khomeini would have continued to draw more even with Hitlerian totalitarianism.

Khomeini's Influence on Iranian Policies Abroad

The domestic imperatives of creating clerical-fascist rule of an omnipresent sort were reinforced by external policies.

In particular, there was the long, bloody war with the habitual Arab and Sunni enemy of Iranian Shi-ite purity, this time under Saddam Hussein's secular totalitarian Islamic fascism that, it was repeatedly said by means of mass mobilization and constant indoctrination, necessitated drastic measures of rooting out the domestic enemies of Khomeini's utopian dreamland. Israel, Jews, and the United States were quickly added to the list of bugaboo devil-like enemies.

Not that Khomeini and his head-honcho clerical acolytes would ever grasp how much of the outside world became antagonistic to Iran.

Certainly it had nothing to do, as with the US-held hostages in the US embassy for over a year, with Iranian Islamic behavior. What else could you expect of secular and Christian America, the French, Russians, Sunni Arab states, and others who supported Saddam's brutal totalitarian state in the decade-long war with Iran, and Jews and Israel --- always at the top of radical Islam's litany of evil turnip-ghosts pulling strings in lurid conspiratorial manner to hold back Islam and the long-awaited rejuvenation of Islamic wealth, power, and influence around the world?

Shiite Terrorism and Nuclear Weapons

Nor did Iran's numerous enemies have anything to do with clerical-fascist Iran's immediate creation and support for Islamist terrorist groups, hoping in this manner to spread revolutionary Shiite fervor abroad, along with the use of terror. How could it? As Khomeini noted, it is a God-ordained obligation of all righteous Muslims to wage jihad against the infidels and apostate Muslims:

"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of other countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world.. .. But those who study Islamic Holy \War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless.

"Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]?

"Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight.

"Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."

Hezbollah, in Southern Lebanon, was the first major suicide terrorist group that Iran subsidized and advised --- starting in the early 1980s; and we now also know that oil-rich Iran has been subsidizing part of Arafat's Fatah movement (and more recently, the suicide-terrorist al-Aqsk Martyrs brigade). Simultaneously, along with Syria, another secular fascist totalitarian Islamic state --- ruled like Saddam's Iraq by a Baath Party cabal, only Alawite and Shia instead of Sunni in religion --- Iran became the major Islamic opponent of not just an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated peace under American mediation, but also of all American and Western influence in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

To achieve this goal, its Shiite fervor brought it into competition with the Saudi-led Sunni fanaticism to encourage Islamist revivalism and jihadi fervor everywhere in the world. Both countries have vied ever since for leadership of global radical Islam's spread. Both too, in pursuit of that goal, have spent billions of dollars demonizing Jews, extolling Jew-hatred, praising and pushing jihadist zeal, and funding Islamist terrorist groups wherever each of them, in competition with one another, thought that it would buy them followers and influence.

Needless to add, the quest for weapons of mass destruction --- chemical, biological, and nuclear --- began in the Khomeini period too, though the indispensable support from abroad that enabled Iranian scientists to conceal from the International Atomic Energy, which was supposed to be monitoring the peaceful use of nuclear transfers, started only in the 1990s after the cold war ended. The nuclear technology developed secretly in Pakistan in that period was transferred to Iran (among others), as did Pakistani missiles acquired originally from China. Simultaneously, Russian transfers in nuclear and maybe missile technology --- still enshrouded in secrecy still --- picked up pace and continue no doubt right down to today.


(ii.) Changes After 1989: Limited Factionalism at
the Very Top of Iran's Power-Structures

Khomeini, the fiery dogmatic cleric and terrorist-supporter who ruled like Mussolini in Italy or Stalin in the Soviet Union --- even if Iranian totalitarianism never reached Stalinist levels --- died in 1989. His successor, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was a relatively unknown second-tier cleric when the dozen or so most powerful mullahs in the institutional structures of the political system chose him as the new Supreme Leader, and his power and stature have never remotely reached those wielded by Khomeini. His role and authority, to return to the analogy with the Soviet Union, were and remain much more like that of Khrushchev or Brezhnev who succeeded Stalin as General Secretary of the Communist Party after 1954 . . . which means that Khamenei is still a very powerful person in the Iranian clerical-fascist system.

A Tag-on Clarification:

Khrushchev was ousted by the Politburo of the 20 most powerful CP members in 1994, his place taken by Brezhnev . . . who ruled in a fairly collective manner with the other leading CP big shots until his death in 1982. Two lackluster, half-cadaverous old men then followed as the CP General Secretary; both soon died in office. In early 1985, with the Soviet economy in tatters, its stagnation and backwardness compounded by the drain on economic resources caused by an over-ambitious and unsustainable global role, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.

The youngest General Secretary since Stalin took the post in the mid-1920s, he quickly sought to push a series of reforms to salvage an unsalvageable bankrupt economy and a giant and bloated state bureaucracy, and in the process he unleashed forces that he couldn't control: the initial, fairly timid reforms led to a quick polarization in the political system that would shatter the entire Communist system and Soviet internal and external empires. On one side were die-hard Communists who rejected all changes, and on the other radical reforms like Yeltsin who saw an opening to undermine a system they recognized as bankrupt.

The die-hard group staged a last desperate effort to save Communism and an intact Soviet state with a coup in 1991 that soon collapsed. In the upshot, the non-Russian republics ---14 of the USSR's total and about half the Soviet population --- seceded from Russian dominance, Russia itself abolished the Communist Party, and Boris Yeltsin, already its elected President, oversaw a transition that partially moved Russia in a more open, democratic polity with a statist-capitalist economy.

Iran in the 1990s Essentially Like Post-Stalinist Russia . . . But Without a Gorbachev, Let Alone a Boris Yeltsin

What follows from the analogy for Iran's evolution after 1989?

Just this: from what we can infer about the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his role since 1989 has been more similar to Brezhnev's in the Soviet Union between 1964 and his death in the early 1980s. There was even a promising change with the election of Mohammad Khatami, who unexpectedly won the Presidency in 1997 and sought changes of a major sort in the clerical-fascist totalitarian system that made him appear, initially, as the Iranian equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev.

The analogy soon proved erroneous.

Khatami and his followers in Parliament soon found themselves opposed at every point by the legal use of the unelected Guardian Council to overturn all progressive legislation. Simultaneously, the secret police managed to silence most of the more reform-minded legislators by various intimidating tactics, including now and then assassination. Two of Khatami's ministers were also killed. The opening of the media --- which had its parallel in Gorbachev's Soviet Union in the 1980s --- was put under careful scrutiny and only slightly relaxed censorship. When university students demonstrated publicly, they were ruthlessly put down; and well-known reform-activists around the country were hauled before kangaroo courts and found guilty of treason and slander of Islam.

With no visible support in the ranks of the military and Basai-militia or the Secret Police, Khatami found himself isolated, and nothing by way of reform followed after his re-election in 2001. The collective mullah-ruling clerical-fascist system had emerged intact when his tenure ended in 2005. Khatami himself publicly admitted total failure in late 2004. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-/content_397866.htm


(iii.) The New Era of Ahmadinejad: Uncertainties Have Multiplied in All Directions

How did Ahmadinejad get elected in July 2005? For a start, to ensure that even a failed timid reformer like Khatami didn't land in the vacant presidency, the hardline ruling mullahs vetted more than 1000 proclaimed candidates for the office. Of these, they reduced the list of acceptable candidates to exactly 8, and Ahmadinejad --- the popular mayor of Teheran --- was one of those 8. Here's a clear hint: the El Supremo mullahs, including the Supreme Leader, didn't fear his being elected. That means, however, at least one of three different things . . . all depending:

(1) Ahmadinejad Too Powerful To Resist

Start with a hard fact: we know that the existing system of clerical-fascist rule is widely despised by the Iranian population of 70 million, even if for different reasons : economic distress among the poorer classes, rampant unemployment, hatred of the mullah theocratic rule among the young and the educated classes, hostility to Persian rule over them found rife among Baluchis, Kurds, Azeris, Arabs, and others who amount to half the 70 million Iranians, and so on. There was even, at the start of Khatami's second presidency, a public opinion poll that a newspaper managed to print (before its editor was arrested) showing that 90% or so of the Iranian public was severely critical of the regime.

What follows?

On this first view of Ahmadinejad's power and authority in the clerical-fascist system, have surged since his election last year as president, and the mullahs and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini are doubly unhappy: they resent his power-aggrandizement, and simultaneously they worry or fear his firebrand, apocalyptic religious ideology.

His Own Independent Power Bases

On this view, the theocratic head-honchos, including the Supreme Leader himself --- fully aware of the rabid populist support he enjoys among the largely impoverished lower classes, along, it seems, thanks to his religious and nationalist fervor, in the ranks of mid-level officers in the Iranian Republican Guard and the Basai militia --- couldn't be eliminated from the final electoral vetting without setting off massive protests and maybe violence, and they haven't known how to rein him in since his victory. If so, on this same view, Ahmadinejad's radical views and hyper millenarian views are at odds, ideologically and personally, with the beliefs of the mullah big shots . . . at any rate to some degree or another; and the El Supremo and his fellow big-shot Theocrats feared much more what would happen if they blocked his candidacy than tolerating his subsequent election..

What else follows?

Probably, to continue speculating, the firebrand militant with his cocky Holocaust denial, Israel-to-be-wiped-off-the-map swagger, nuclear boasting, and apocalyptic religious mumbo-jumbo --- including the imminent return to public of the messianic Mahdi, who will destroy the evil infidels and punish all sinful Muslims until they repent and follow pure, Paradise-like Islam here on earth --- enjoys an independent political base that the mullahs haven't been able to undermine the last year and is able in office, then, to find some room of power-maneuvering, and maybe even a lot. This possibility becomes more likely when you consider that Ahmadinejad's ultra-nationalist bombast, nuclear showboating, and anti-Semitic rants probably enjoys the enthusiastic support of at least some of the military, the Secret Police, and the Religious Peace. For all we know, his radical wild-eyed Shiite fervor --- which includes publicized tête-à-têtes with the Hidden Imam Savior --- resonates in the same circles.

If so, note the implications: an independent president and his followers --- whether in various security forces, or among the run-of-the-mill mullahs, low down on the trough and angry that they're not getting more of the swag, and dominating the economically disenfranchised masses (40-50% of the population, note swiftly, lives in poverty) --- are either eager for a full-fledged confrontation with either Israel or the US or the West, or are simply stupid and ignorant and don't understand the direct implications of Ahmadinejad's cocky nuclear and foreign policy rants.


(i.) Some Hard Evidence on Ignorance

The latter possibility --- rife stupidity and striking ignorance of the world outside Iran, plus conspiratorial lunacies --- can't be dismissed as part of Ahmadinejad's manic, wild-eyed religious views, to say nothing of the mental outlook of the masses who support him so enthusiastically. Just the opposite.

The evidence for this conjecture is overwhelming: witness the following results of the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Survey 2006, in which Muslim populations in 5 Muslim countries, in Nigeria with a near Muslim-majority, and in 4 West European countries found an overwhelming disposition toward psycho-ward conspiratorial lunacies. The particular results concern whether Muslim Arabs carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil.

All of which immediately prompts a question: . . .

(ii.) . . . What are the populist sources of Ahmadinejad's appeal to the Poor and the True-Believing Militants in the Revolutionary Guard, the Basai, and in the circles of Small-Fry Clerics and Islamist Publicists and Scholars?.

Here, for once, sustained speculation isn't necessary. The sources are fairly well known, even if there aren't careful follow-up opinion surveys of the voters after 2005's presidential election.'

Start with the economy. It's a mess. To the extent it grows at all, it does so only thanks to high oil prices; and even then, there has been so little foreign investment in Iranian oil fields the last two decades that the revenue is far below what it could be. What little industry Iran had in the era of the Shah before 1979 has grown decrepit, not least because almost all the western-educated technocrats and businessmen quickly fled the country. In the upshot, recall, poverty now engulfs between 40 and 50% of Iran's 70 million people. Simultaneously, unemployment is stubbornly persistent, and the official figure of around 12% most likely has to be doubled to get an accurate count.

Nor is that all.

The social programs that the Iranian government has pursued for decades to try mitigating poverty and unemployment have been largely funded by issuing new money . . . a typical demagogic ruse, with predictable results: double-digit inflation, which hurts the poor far more than the rich and the patrons and clients who infest the middle levels of the crony networks. Then, too, it's among these poor, largely ignorant masses and in the ranks of the cocky middle-level officers in the military (the Republican Guard and Basai alike) that the messianic bombast full of radical Doomsday-Showdown claptrap is likely to be most zealously believed . . . yes, among them and the lower, poorer Shiite clerics and publicists who haven't thrived the way the higher-placed mullahs have. Needless to add, the Religious Police --- full of ardent true-believing bureaucrats of militant Shi-ite tendencies --- has to be added to the list of Ahmadinejad, along with the volunteer tyrants in various neighborhoods who like to patrol the streets in some semi-official garb and slap or whip women whose dress or behavior doesn't conform to rigid Sharia codes. Whether that's also true of the even more dreaded Secret Police --- specialists in brutal torture --- isn't clear.


Among all these constituents, Ahmadinejad's magnetic appeal parallels that of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabi true-believers, and other Salafi fundamentalist spin-offs in other Islamic countries.

If there is a difference with these other Islamo-fascist fundamentalist groups, it's the absence in Iran among the educated youth of any large appeal of the manic, half-crazy radical jihadism that flourishes among the semi-educated, alienated "intellectuals" in Sunni countries. Virtually all the 9/11 mass-murdering terrorists, remember, were drawn from those groups in Saudi Arabia, just as the top ranks of al Qaeda are largely filled with similar rancorous and uprooted types, who are unhappy in the modern world, despise the "sinful" and self-centered nature of existing Sunni Islamic countries, and seek to find new meaning and personal identity in true-believing Holy War of rippling, hate-filled jihadi violence that, they apparently hope, will soon lead to a purified, powerful, all-conquering Islam world-wide . . . with all their enemies, whether 5 billion infidels or hundreds of millions of apostate Muslims, righteously exterminated by them, the chosen instrument of Allah.

The eruption of jihadi terrorism in West Europe since early 2004 --- all caused by home-grown Britons, Spaniards, Italians, Dutch, French, Germans, and what have you --- shows, even more strikingly, just how magnetic the appeal of millenarian jihadi messianism can be to alienated, mentally dislocated Muslims of a half-baked educated sort, desperate to the core for finding a psychic anchor of certitude and hope, however violent and mass-murdering, in radical Islamist extremism.

At which point, another question immediately prompts itself: . . .

(iii.) . . . Why do the educated youth in Iran seem more insulated to such bellicose Holy War jihadism?

Most likely --- to return to speculative analysis --- doubt because they've lived with the consequences of clerical-fascist Islamic totalitarianism for almost three decades now. Quite simply, they seem to hate it root-and-branch, and understandably so. Since 1979, revolutionary fervor in student circles has clearly ebbed. The little freedom that emerged for them during the Khatami period of the mid- and late 1990s --- sexually and in intellectual expression --- has been officially reversed. Simultaneously, the Iranian educational system --- which had its strengths compared to Arab countries in the Shah's period --- has been irreparably damaged, with, into the bargain, the ability to study abroad severely curbed. Were the Iranian economy booming with lots of good jobs for professionals, engineers, and technicians, the alienation of the young and educated --- a good half of the Iranian population under 20 or so in age --- might be blunted, but the economy continues to be entangled in a self-created thicket of incoherent regulations, Islamist economic notions, and massive graft and corruption . . . all compounded by the usual sort of dysfunctional patron-client networks that flourish in all Muslim countries and ensure that people in positions of authority aren't there because of talent and performance but rather their mutual back-scratching positions in these small privileged hierarchies.

This speculation, note, does have some hard evidence to draw on.

A few public opinion surveys that were carried out in the midst of the Khatami period --- remember, a slight thaw in the state's repression of the media in the late 1990s and on into the start of the current decade --- showed that the young and educated despised the entire Shiite clerical-fascist system, its theocratic mumbo-jumbo, its rigid puritanical codes of behavior that are enforced by the religious and other police, and its lack of freedom in all realms. Interestingly, one poll in 2001 --- which was published before the censors could clamp down the newspaper that published it --- revealed that about 90% of all Iranians were severely critical of the regime . . . and not just students. The reasons for their harsh views would have varied though. Ahmadinejad's alluring appeal is precisely to about half the population that suffers from poverty, unemployment, and grievances galore among true-believing but poorly educated mullahs, publicists, Islamic scholars, militant members of the Basai-militia, the volunteer and professional members of the Religious Police, and what have you.

Its also these groups --- about half the population, maybe a little more --- who seem to find his firebrand, crazy-house Shiite bombast a source of attraction too.

Add one other likely source of Ahmadinejad's popularity, probably more wide-ranging than the other allurements: his jingoist Iranian nationalism, his aggressive defiance of the US, Israel, and the Europeans, his Jew-hating rhetoric --- a big appeal everywhere in the Muslim world --- and the full-sail-ahead nuclear programs that everyone knows are intended to arm Iran with nuclear weapons. How widely such rhetoric and behavior resonate among the alienated educated-young is another matter. There are no opinion-surveys whatsoever to even conjecture a half-way solid inference here.

(iv.)Oh, One More Point Immediately Pops to Mind in This Connection.

Keep in mind, though, that it's really Persian ultra-nationalist saber-rattling and defiance. A good half of Iran's 70 million people aren't Persian, even if they're overwhelmingly Muslim, and they may be no happier being under Persian thumbs than the non-Russian Soviet Republics were when they finally broke away from a disintegrating Communist Soviet Union in 1991.

  All of which brings us to the next possibility about how power is distributed in Iran since Ahmadinejad took over the presidency in July 2005. Fortunately, thanks to all the spadework up to now, we can be very brief in setting out this and the third alternatives.


2. Ahmadinejad Too Powerful To Resist,
But the Dominant Mullahs' Opposition Is Largely Personal, Not Ideological

From this next, fully speculative angle, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his faithful head-honcho mullahs running the other pivotal, non-elected institutions in Iran --- the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, the Legal System, the Military, Basai-Militia, and Republican Guard, and the Secret and Religious Police Forces --- don't differ that much on ideological matters with Ahmadinejad and his wild Hojatieh-Sect necromantic Showdown hocus-pocus . . . rather, their resistance and reluctant acquiescence to his magnetic influence as President are overwhelmingly personal. Above all, seen in this way, the entrenched mullah power-holders resent Ahmadinejad's personal power base and populist demagogy, but for the time being they can't do much about it.

The Chief Reason?

At present, Ahmadinejad is simply too popular to oppose head-on; and his jingoist drumbeat, nuclear power-boasts, and jubilant reception in Indonesia and many Sunni Arab countries --- at any rate on the Arab street --- make it impossible for the vexed mullahs to do much but bide their time. What's more, as long as they control the security forces and Secret Police --- despite some apparent inroads that Ahmadinejad's wild jihadi rhetoric has achieved in them --- they probably feel confident that sooner or later they can limit his power and any independent policy-making freedom and win him over to a much toned-down pursuit of policies that they otherwise embrace. If this speculation is sound, then, it's personal differences, personal style, and excessive ideological zeal that might exacerbate conflicts with powerful outside states like the US --- or maybe even provoke an Israeli pre-emptive nuclear strike --- that rankles among the entrenched mullahs, not ideological goals or world-views per se except for the lurid Hojatieh hocus-pocus . . . and especially Ahmadinjad's own monomanical obsession that he's the personal servant of the messianic Mahdi and that the Hidden Spook will reappear sometime soon and destroy the infidels and sinful apostate Muslims while ending all misery and suffering for saved, true-believing Muslims.

So what, to go on speculating, are the end-goals that Ahmadinejad and the firmly established mullah power-holders share . . . at any rate in foreign policy? They're fairly easy to set out:

Make Iran the regional power in the Persian Gulf region, preparatory to becoming the dominant player in the entire Middle East and over time in the Islamic countries formerly part of the Soviet Union . . . in the process controlling the vast oil resources of the Persian Gulf countries and hence making Iran, otherwise a very backward and poor country, something of a global power.

The global power ambitions would be reinforced by a dominant Iran becoming the leader of a resurgent Islamic world, blurring the differences with the cowed Sunni Arab states and the Sunni countries of Asia like next-door Pakistan and Afghanistan and, further a field, Indonesia. All Persians would then be elated to see Persian power and prestige restored to its ancient glories, only on a more far-flung scale.

In the longer run, Russian influence to the north would be whittled away, India's economic dynamism and nuclear weapons would be neutralized, Israel would be undermined or destroyed somehow, and Turkey would turn increasingly toward Islamic fundamentalism and leave NATO. European influence would then be totally eliminated from the Islamic world --- it's already very weak anyway --- and that would only leave a US in opposition, a country that Muslim rulers and terrorist groups that see it as an enemy apparently believe has no taste for long-run conflicts in the Middle East or on the Eurasian Continent.


3. Ahmadinejad Is a Sock-Puppet in the Hands of the Ruling Mullahs

We can be particularly brief here if only because it's the least likely of the alternative ways of viewing the distribution of power and policy-making in Iran these days.

Why So?

Well, to make sense of it, there can't be any ideological differences between them and Ahmadinejad, including his Hojatieh Doomsday-Voodoo that the Mahdi's imminent return will usher in . . . chaos, war, slaughter of the truculent evil infidels who won't submit to Islam, conversion of all others, punishment of sinful and apostate Muslims, and then --- oh my! oh my! --- peace, harmony, and happiness everywhere in a triumphant Muslim world. At the same time, the entrenched mullahs can't resent any of Ahmadinejad's power and popularity . . . the second alternative just discussed. Instead, they know full well that they are disliked or hated by the vast majority of Iranians, and so they welcome the new populist firebrand as a way of beguiling the masses and stabilizing the regime that has otherwise seen its foundations wearing away for two decades.

If that means, then, that in order to fully co-opt Ahmadinejad they will have buy each and every one of his major religious credos, so be it. At most, it's a matter of adjusting their own Shiite fervor to accommodate a more radical, stepped-up schedule of becoming the Middle East and Persian Gulf dominant power, the lead spokesman and model of resurgent Islam world-wide, and the destruction one way or another of Israeli and Western influences in the region.

All of this is plausible, but unlikely --- though in a secretive regime you can never be sure what's what. How many specialists on the Soviet Union in 1985, when Gorbachev took power there, would have foreseen the utter collapse six years later of its external empire in East Europe, its internal empire over the non-Russian peoples, and the disappearance of the Communist Party itself? Again, at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the late 1960's and early 1970s in Maoist China --- when the mass-murdering Mao and his clique had mobilized hundreds of millions of teen-age revolutionaries to run amuck and challenge all established authority --- how many Chinese specialists would have foreseen Mao's group overthrow after 1976 and a major shift in economic policy toward statist capitalism, with all the upheavals in radical Communism that followed? So you can't dismiss this current scenario of Iranian power out of hand.

The rest is speculation.